Sunday, March 27, 2016

Review: Murder at the Mikado by Julianna Deering

Murder at the Mikado (A Drew Farthering Mysery #3)
By: Julianna Deering
Publisher: Bethany House
ISBN: 978-0-7642-1097-6


Just six short months since murder -- and the investigative bug -- entered Drew Farthering's life, he's found faith, purpose, and love. Preparing for his marriage to Madeline, life couldn't be sweeter, until a face from Drew's youth makes an unwelcome and shocking return to his life, bringing with her potent reminders of a past he'd thought long buried. Married to Farlinford Processing's new, and highly respectable, manager, by all appearances Fleur was a woman transformed. But when another of Fleur's former flames, the head of her old theater troupe, is found murdered and Fleur is allegedly seen feeling the scene of the crime -- she turns to Drew for help. Loathe to refuse help to anyone, even the woman who had broken his heart years before, Drew begins to investigate, determined to steer clear of Fleur and the temptation of any past entanglement.

The deeper Drew investigates Fleur's connection with the theater troupe and its murdered star, the more his proximity to his one-time paramour begins to strain his relationship with Madeline. When a second murdered member of the troupe is discovered, the evidence against Fleur mounts, but despite his personal dislike of Fleur, Drew cannot help but feel that the intrigues at the theater run deeper than they first appear. As the danger mounts, and Drew is forced to face the specter of his past, he must decide if his calling to investigate is worth the cost to his future.

Murder at the Mikado is perhaps Julianna Deering's strongest, must cunningly plotted Drew Farthering mystery yet. I'm so glad I elected to re-read the first two installments of the series prior to reading this book for the first time, as Deering's world-building and characterization shine all the brighter for seeing Drew grow over the course of each installment. She has mastered the tropes of the genre and the feel and rhythm of the time period with a facility that few of her contemporaries can lay claim to, all while incorporating a thread of faith that feels wholly organic to the characters' lives and experiences.

I was particularly impressed with how Deering handled the introduction of Fleur as Drew's first serious romantic entanglement. So often, in both inspirational and mainstream fiction, it falls to female characters to struggle with the fallout of past romantic indiscretions. Here it is refreshing to see a male lead grapple with such regret, and cope with the realization that the revelation of such knowledge has the potential to cause pain in the present. Deering deftly balances the moral view of the time period with eternal spiritual truths, testing Drew and Madeline's belief in the maxim of 2 Corinthians 5:17 -- "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."

I absolutely loved every aspect of this mystery, from the exotic theater setting and its colorful cast of attendant characters to the wedding preparations spearheaded by Madeline's formidable Aunt Ruth. Carefully planted red herrings and misdirection make this Drew's most compulsively readable case yet. This investigation twists and turns at lightning speed, and Deering makes good use of having a -- supposedly -- former "bad" girl seeking exoneration at the center of Drew's investigative efforts.

It's fascinating see how Deering juxtaposes Drew's past experience with Fleur and her current peril to explore the concepts of forgiveness and spiritual renewal in the present. For all appearances both Drew and Fleur have moved on with their lives, but the full reality of each of their situations is far different. Without delving into a spiritual exegesis of Scripture, spelling out the concepts of confession, repentance, and forgiveness, Deering instead illustrates the profound impact of faith on a believer's life, redemption of both one's past and present, through Drew's confrontation of his past ghosts and ultimately, forgiveness of the woman who once took advantage of his naivete, thus allowing him to embrace a future with Madeline.

I confess that of the trio at the center of each investigation -- Drew, the irrepressible Nick, and Madeline, the latter continues to be the weakest link for me. Deering does such a good job bringing 1930s Britain to life on the page that I want to project a Myrna Loy style and attitude on Madeline's character, when the truth of the matter is, Madeline is -- as yet --   no spunky Girl Friday. While I understood her attitude toward Fleuer's reappearance in Drew's life, I grew increasingly frustrated with her refusal to explain, or to even attempt to confront, the real reason she has such a strong reaction to Fleur. Madeline has as yet so much untapped potential to be a sparkling foil to Drew's earnest, debonair sleuth, one that I hope -- now that the question of her relationship with Drew is settled -- is given room to grow in future installments.

Murder at the Mikado is Deering's most ambitious mystery yet, replete with twists, turns, and misdirection, wrapped with her signature wit and pitch-perfect period detail. This series continues to be a dream come true for this cozy, classic mystery lover, as Deering combines her affinity for the genre with razor-sharp characterizations and relational arcs that leave one ever more invested in Drew's world and life with each successive installment. While I may have to come to terms with the fact that Deering's conception of Madeline's character is less independent than I might wish, that alone is a small preferential mark against an otherwise stellar and wholly welcome modern take on the classic period mystery genre. This series shines, and Drew's investigation of the Murder at the Mikado is his twistiest and most stylish case yet! 

About the book:

When a celebrated actor is found murdered in his dressing room, all signs point to Drew's old flame. But behind the curtains nothing is what it seems and this quickly becomes his most puzzling case yet.

Just as Drew Farthering thinks his life as calmed down some, Fleur Landis, a former girlfriend, reappears, in dire need of his help. She's married now, no longer an actress -- but the lead actor in her former troupe's production of The Mikado has been murdered, and Fleur is the police's number one suspect.

Drew would rather focus on his fiancee, Madeline Parker, and their upcoming wedding, but he can't leave Fleur and her family in the lurch -- even if she did break his heart once. As Drew, Nick, and Madeline begin investigating, they discover more going on behind the scenes of the theater troupe than could ever have been imagined. It seems nearly everyone had a motive, and alibis are few and far between.

Both the murder case and the presence of the beautiful, exotic Fleur put a heavy strain on Drew and Madeline's relationship. Will their still-young romance survive the pressure?

1 comment:

  1. Well said!
    I can.not.wait for #4 Dressed for Death out now and on its way to my library...
    book #5 already turned in by Julianna Deering - anticipaaation....

    Thanks for posting your excellent review & promoing #Drew :)